Plenty of Precedent for Dumping Quayle

August 02, 1992|By THOMAS J. SEESS

President George Bush should dump Vice President J. Danforth Quayle, a Jonah on the Ship of State if ever there was one, and forthwith name a replacement. Precedents abound for such a change being a vital factor in an incumbent president's re-election.

But there is one caveat. The president must act before the Republican National Convention. Otherwise, he runs the risk of appearing in the same light that George McGovern did during he 1972 campaign.

After picking Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri to be his running-mate, Mr. McGovern discovered that Mr. Eagleton had a history of mental depression so pronounced that on two occasions, he had subjected himself to electric shock therapy. Mr. McGovern backed and filled, hemmed and hawed, first announced that he was "one thousand percent" behind his running mate, and then began dropping hints to reporters and politicos that Mr. Eagleton should leave the ticket "voluntarily." Finally Mr. Eagleton took the hint and withdrew, but by then Mr. McGovern's reputation as a vacillator or, worse, a hypocrite, was firmly established.

But success has crowned many efforts of sitting presidents to change running mates before the convention.

In 1864, while still engulfed by the Civil War, Abraham Lincolnrunning for re-election on the "National Union" ticket, sought to begin his second term leading a united phalanx of Republicans and "War Democrats" to mount the final, agonizing push for Union victory. Hence, the party's Baltimore convention discarded first-term Vice President Hannibal Hamlin of Maine and replaced him with Andrew Johnson, a passionate Southern Unionist. In a campaign as important for the Union's survival as the battles still raging on Southern battlefields, the Lincoln-Johnson ticket defeated General George B. McClellan and the "Peace Democrats" and, in 1865, went on to victory at Appomattox.

Only eight years later, the victor of Appomattox, Ulysses S. Grant, was finishing his first term in 1872 when the Credit Mobilier scandal broke. The company of that name, which had contracted to build the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad, bilked the taxpayers while insuring the cooperation of key members of Congress by cutting them in. One such recipient was Vice President Schuyler Colfax, who had been paid off while he was Speaker of the House. Faced with mounting cries for his impeachment, Mr. Colfax finished his term in disgrace.

Needless to say, Mr. Colfax had no interest in a second vice-presidential term ("They can't impeach you after you've left office, can they?" he asked colleagues anxiously) and was replaced on the ticket by Sen. Henry Wilson of Massachusetts. The Grant-Wilson ticket then swept to re-election.

The champion ticket-switcher of all was the man who served longest of all as president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Vice president during Roosevelt's first two terms (1933-1941) was John Nance ("Cactus Jack") Garner of Texas, who, like Mr. Colfax, had been rewarded with that office after laboring long years in the vineyard as Speaker of the House. Best known, perhaps, for his reputed comment that the vice-presidency "wasn't worth a pitcher of warm spit" (although the actual reference may have been to another warm substance), Mr. Garner, a conservative Southern Democrat, was out of sympathy with much of FDR's New Deal program. What finally tore it between the two men, though, was Mr. Garner's opposition to FDR's "Court-packing" scheme in 1937, when the president, frustrated by a conservative Supreme Court, tried to increase its size up to fifteen members if existing members refused to resign when they reached age 70. When the Senate vote on this measure came up, Mr. Garner, whose vote might have been needed to break a tie, was nowhere to be found.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the last person to forgive or forget such an affront. Shortly before the Democratic Convention of 1940, he chose Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace of Iowa to replace Mr. Garner, and the Roosevelt-Wallace ticket went on to victory against challenger Wendell Willkie in November, winning an unprecedented third presidential term.

Mr. Wallace was an agricultural scientist and political visionary who in the '30s and '40s had become very enamored of the Soviet Union. By 1944, FDR's key political advisers argued that, with Communist Russia already looming in the minds of many as the next great enemy after the defeat of Nazi Germany, Mr. Wallace was becoming a political liability.

As a result, eight days before the Democratic Convention of 1944, Mr. Wallace was, in his turn, dumped from the ticket. Sen. Harry S Truman of Missouri was the president's new choice. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Truman went on to defeat Republican Thomas E. Dewey and win a fourth presidential term. In April 1945, three months after his inauguration, Franklin D. Roosevelt was dead, and Harry Truman ascended to the presidency.

Sometimes the instincts of politicians and voters prove correct: could the United States have asked for a stronger leader in the early struggles of the Cold War than the redoutable Harry Truman?

This election, too, goes beyond mere partisan considerations. The well-being of our nation is at stake, and this compels plain speaking. As Winston Churchill said of his longtime parliamentary rival, Clement Attlee, Vice President Quayle is "a modest man, with much to be modest about."

Americans should demand that a stronger figure, a Number Two President, must now replace Dan Quayle on the Republican ticket. Jack Kemp or William Bennett would be good choices.

Thomas Seess is a retired political science teacher and a registered Republican.

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